How to Plan a Wedding on a Budget

You’re engaged!  Congratulations!  Here’s to the most expensive day of your life. According to The Knot’s 2019 Real Weddings Study, the average cost of a wedding was $33,900 (including the ring but not including the honeymoon), but it varies significantly by location. Unfortunately, more and more couples are paying for this themselves, with parents no longer footing the bill.  Unless they have a significant bankroll, this means taking on debt and maxing out credit cards. Hold on.  It does not have to be that way.  You can tie the knot without tying knots in your finances.  When counseling our clients, we strongly recommend setting a budget that you can afford for the big day and sticking to it.  Here are a few suggestions that may help you plan your big day without breaking the bank.

1. The Budget

After the dust settles, sit down as a couple and figure out what a reasonable budget looks like for your financial situation. How much do you have saved?  Will your families offer any assistance? Next, do some research to see what the average costs are for venues in your state; New Jersey is the most expensive with an average wedding cost of $53,400 while Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming come in at under $20,000. The venue selection will drive many of the other costs.  Figure out what aspects of the wedding are most important to you as a couple (the photographer? flowers? the dress?) and allocate accordingly. There are many good budget calculators online (www.weddingwire.com, www.theknot.com) which can help you plan for the countless items that you might otherwise miss such as invitation costs, tips, transportation, paper products, gifts for the guests, etc. Whether on a spreadsheet or a piece of paper, make a list of each item, your budget, and the actual cost when you get estimates.


2. The Timing

Everyone wants to get married on Saturday in June, July, or August.  Accordingly, the prices will be at the peak for these time slots. Consider getting married on a Friday night with a cocktail reception or a Sunday morning with a brunch reception. Mid-week weddings are even becoming popular.  By taking advantage of less sought-after times, you will likely have a wider selection of vendors to choose from too. Similarly, consider months that are typically less popular for weddings. A winter wedding in the northern states could save you a bundle compared to a summer affair.

3. The Venue

The venue is often the largest single expense.  According to Wedding Wire, the average cost to rent the space alone is $10,500.  Larger more elegant venues like resorts may charge as much as $74,000 but some community centers can be rented for as little as $2000.  In many cases the venue will dictate who you can use for catering, bartending, and decorations which may up the cost. For creative possibilities, consider renting a barn or pavilion in an outdoor space if the weather allows, or try local attractions like museums, art galleries, breweries, or a local winery.  Pay attention to what is included with the venue price (tables, chairs, tablecloths, china, glassware, set up and breakdown fees, tax) as these can add significantly to the cost and be ruthless about avoiding upgrades to the basic package.

4. The Guest List

Do you really need to have 250 guests, or will your 100 closest friends and relatives be enough? Like the venue selection, the number of guests drives other costs.  Having a lower guest count saves on food, alcohol, invitations, favors, flowers, and transportation costs.  On a positive note, by keeping the guest list short, you will also be able to enjoy and visit with those who are there – the most important people in your life.  One interesting note from the pandemic of 2020, the size of weddings decreased dramatically, and the average cost was down by 33%!


5. No Frills

In recent years, the wedding day celebration has expanded to include engagement parties, the bride-to-be and groom-to-be weekends, welcome parties, rehearsal dinners, cocktail parties, and post-wedding brunches. Gifts are given to the wedding party, the parents, and the guests.  Honeymoons are over-the-top trips to fantastic destinations.  Strip down the wedding to the critical elements- a wedding ceremony and a simple reception and you have drastically cut down the associated costs.

With careful planning, you can enjoy a wonderful wedding day without breaking the bank and start your married life on the right financial footing.